Film Study: Takeaways From the 2024 Ohio State Spring Game

By Kyle Jones on April 17, 2024 at 11:35 am
Caleb Downs and the veteran secondary showed out in the 2024 Ohio State Spring Game.

Spring games, by nature, can be tough to evaluate.

Film Study

Unless you are a position coach or coordinator focused on one specific aspect of the game, the line between success and failure gets quite blurry when watching your team compete against itself. Featuring a loaded roster and the expectations that come along with it, the 2024 Ohio State Scarlet & Gray game was no different. 

Invested onlookers surely struggled with what to make of last Saturday's scrimmage in the Shoe, watching a veteran defense mostly stifle an offense stocked with playmakers. While the scoreboard operator became much busier late in the game as young players got valuable experience on the Ohio Stadium turf, the first two periods saw few fireworks while the starting units on each side of the ball went head-to-head.

Without live tackling, the run game was largely an afterthought for new offensive coordinator Chip Kelly, giving his dynamic backfield duo of TreVeyon Henderson and Quinshon Judkins just a handful of carries each. On the rare occasions they did take a handoff, however, there were noted adaptations to the scheme, with Kelly inserting some key wrinkles into the zone-based run game that his one-time pupil has long employed in Columbus.

(NOTE: Watch videos with SOUND ON for full narration and analysis)

"I think we're really athletic," Kelly said of his veteran offensive line after the game. "I think Donnie (Jackson) and Seth (McLaughlin) and those guys are really intelligent. ... A lot of those guys have played a lot of football.

While most fans likely missed subtle line calls like the fold block above when watching in real-time, it was nearly impossible to miss how often Buckeye quarterbacks took off and ran with the ball in their hands. As many expected with Kelly's hire, these runs came off a variety of option concepts attached to base concepts already in the playbook.

“It’s another weapon,” Kelly added. “It helps keep defenses honest. If your defensive end is going to continue to bend (inside), your quarterback pulls it and he’s on the edge and he’s gaining first downs, then the defensive end has to stay outside and defend the quarterback. Then we can run the ball up and hand the ball off.”

This evolution in the Buckeye offense has been top of mind for Kelly's opposing number, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. 

"It changes everything you do on defense," Knowles said of the run threat at the QB spot. "You see it everywhere, from the NFL on down."

But not every option dialed up by Kelly was meant to put the signal-caller in harm's way, stressing the defense with options both on the ground and through the air.

“There’s times where you have to understand, if you do have a running quarterback, the best ability is availability,” Kelly said. “You’re not lowering your shoulder, taking people on. But we are always looking for quarterbacks that have the ability to run. We’re not looking for running backs that can throw.”

From his perspective, Kelly is surely tired of facing off with Knowles' defense, as the Buckeyes' talented secondary clamped down on the new OC's passing game.

Now entering his third season in Columbus, Knowles continues to tinker with his unit's scheme and alignments, leaning heavily on two-high safety looks after playing mostly single-high coverages early on in his tenure.

While defenses often have a leg up in such scenarios, having practiced against the same route concepts over and over by this point in the Spring, the performance of the Ohio State secondary should be the headline for both supporters and opponents coming out of this glorified game of touch football. With defenders blanketing receivers, the cast of quarterbacks hoping to get a leg up in the competition for the starting job were left with few opportunities to impress. 

"Our DBs are BIA, Best in America," Knowles gushed when asked about the performance of his defensive backs against a highly-regarded set of wideouts. "We led the nation in pass defense (last year). ... It's a competitive spirit, it's an expectation now. ... They view it as a standard."

While Caleb Downs and Denzel Burke receive most of the attention, Jordan Hancock showed on multiple occasions why he belongs in the same conversation. The senior slot defender certainly didn't look like a safety when tasked with manning up on Emeka Egbuka throughout the day.

Given the level of play in the secondary and a desire to avoid injuries, Knowles called few blitzes throughout the sunny April afternoon. However, one of the rare times in which he sent pressure may have helped cement Will Howard as the expected starter come this fall.

"The pocket presence is something that was there early on," Ryan Day said of the Kansas State transfer. "That's something that is difficult to teach.

Howard's ability to sense pressure without sacrificing his mechanics as a passer is a welcome sight in Central Ohio, given the shortcomings of Kyle McCord in such situations last season. While his passing chart may not have set the social media world ablaze, the manner in which Howard got to those throws will surely stand out to Day and Kelly as they evaluate the performance of each QB.

There are certainly questions that remain about this team as they enter a relatively quiet period until training camp begins in early August. Questions along the offensive line, at linebacker, tight end, and, of course, quarterback, remain unanswered as the Buckeyes broke spring camp.

But while the 2024 Scarlet & Gray game might have been short on entertainment value, there were plenty of reasons to reinforce the high expectations set upon this program going into the fall.

View 47 Comments